Incase one of your New Year's Resolution is to start a diet, well hold that thought a few more days. 'Tis the season to eat and enjoy all sorts of food and sweets and in a day comes the King Cake or what we refer to as Galette Des Rois - a round golden crunchy puff pastry cake enjoyed during the festival of Epiphany which occurs on January 6.
Going to Byblos to see some friends, I decided to pass by Paul for some breakfast. Entering the place I saw three long shelves filled with cakes; king cakes. I bought two of them and continued my journey to one of the world's oldest city. There, I had an idea. Since it's the season why not try a few king cakes from three known pastry shops and compare them and hope to help you better choose yours.
For today’s comparison I chose three places known for their good pastry and more so their king cakes.
- La Cigale: This place comes highly recommended by my friends who suggest that they sell the best king cakes in town.
- Pate a Choux: This is one of my favorite pastry shops in Lebanon
- Paul: I entered this place by chance today and discovered their king cakes - why not compare the local ones to a French one.
I headed back home and displayed them all in front of me. Together with the help of my wife we tried each and compared them.
Let's start by giving you some history to understand more the idea behind this cake, its ingredients and way of preparations.
Epiphany, which traditionally falls on January 6, is a Christian feast day that celebrates the revelation of God the Son as a human being in Jesus Christ. Western Christians commemorate principally (but not solely) the visit of the Magi to the Baby Jesus, and thus Jesus' physical manifestation to the Gentiles. Eastern Christians commemorate the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River, seen as his manifestation to the world as the Son of God.
A king cake is a type of cake associated with the festival of Epiphany in the Christmas season in a number of countries, and in other places with the pre-Lenten celebrations of Mardi Gras / Carnival. It is a popular food item during the Christmas season (Christmas Eve to Epiphany) in Lebanon, France, Belgium, Quebec and Switzerland (galette or gâteau des Rois or galette des rois). The cake has a small plastic baby, said to represent Baby Jesus) inside (or sometimes placed underneath), and the person who gets the piece of cake with the trinket has various privileges and obligations.
The French King Cake, produced in Lebanon is a cake traditionally celebrating Epiphany in France and Quebec sold in most bakeries during the month of January. Two versions exist: in northern France and Quebec the cake called galette des rois (which can be either circular or rectangular) consists of flaky puff pastry layers with a dense center of frangipane.
The cake filling:
Frangipane is a filling made from or flavored with almonds. This filling can be used in a variety of ways including cakes, tarts and other assorted pastries. An alternative French spelling from a 1674 cookbook is franchipane with the earliest modern spelling coming from a 1732 confectioners' dictionary. Originally designated as a custard tart flavored by almonds or pistachios it came later to designate a filling that could be used in a variety of confections and baked goods. Frangipane is one of France's many traditional foods associated with Christmas celebration.
These days it is normally made of butter, sugar, eggs, and ground almonds: beat butter and sugar together until pale and fluffy, gradually beat in the eggs, fold in the ground almonds.
I tried three cakes - on average the same size each (serving 8-10 people), so the comparison can be fair
Paul’s king cake is sold for 35,000L.L. Served on a plastic tray, this cake is presented in a paper bag. The outer crust is crunchy and filled with a thick layer of yellow cream. This cake is good despite the fact that the upper layer smells the eggs. I personally didn’t like the inner dough which requires a bit of effort to bite off with your teeth. It doesn’t feel like puff pastry. Another thing, I didn’t like the fact that you have to take in an open bag where crumbs spill around the car before you reach home. By the way, I asked them for their biggest one which the cashier says serves 20 persons, but I am sure she actually meant 10 because it doesn't look big and it's sold for 43,000L.L.
La Cigale’s cake is sold for 33,000L.L and served on a carton and put in a carton box. The taste is a bit commercial but the inner filling is rich and creamy. I liked the crust; it's crunchy and enjoyable. A bit too sweet for my taste but I would order it again next year. The box is nice and the price very reasonable.
Pate a Choux’a cake is sold at 59,000L.L. Yes, 25,000L.L more expensive than the other two I tried and very different on all fronts. It seems wanting to be different, Pate A Choux created their own recipe and filling - following no traditions. The inner filling, brown in color, is a mix of almonds and dry fruits. Holding the cake, you will feel a huge difference; it’s like 1kg heavier than the others and much thicker. If you've tried their almond croissant before, you'll realize that this king cake resembles it. I loved the dough but the filling is deceiving. Trying to be special and over generous, you find yourself with a filling that is like 2cm thick in your mouth. It covers on the dough and is hard to eat, chew and swallow. If this creation is sold as a normal cake with a different name, it might be acceptable, but surely not known as a Galette des Rois.
Conclusion: After trying the three cakes, I preferred La Cigale’s king cake, followed by Paul's and Pate A Choux comes last. Mind you, although La Cigale's is better than the other two, I don't think that it's the ultimate cake for the season. Now that the celebration is taking place tomorrow, it will be impossible for me to try other pastry shops. I'm counting on you guys to send in your experiences...